HAMBURG, GERMANY – MAY 2009: The compact size of Metric Halo’s eight-channel Mobile I/O 2882+DSP and two-channel ULN-2+DSP interfaces has been of significant benefit to Andrew Levine, a location recording engineer based in Hamburg, Germany, who frequently uses public transportation, or even a bicycle, to travel to local jobs. Levine, who is founder of blumlein records, is making use of Metric Halo’s powerful new 2d upgrade to record, monitor and mix stereo and surround sound projects, several of which use his unique XYtri microphone setup.
Having been using Metric Halo equipment for about seven years, Levine, who owns a 2882+DSP, two ULN-2+DSP interfaces, and, as he can officially state as of the AES Munich introduction, two flagship ULN-8s, comments, “It’s essential to my work because I’m doing mobile recording, so my studio has to travel with me, usually on my back. For small jobs needing two to four channels in Hamburg, if the weather permits, I go there on a bike. Bigger jobs I travel to by train, with my gear in a metal box mounted on a sack barrow. So it’s environmentally friendly!”
Levine records everything from orchestras, small ensembles and vocal groups, to more avant-garde music, jazz and spoken word. Even on the occasion of his first professional location recording – of the Argentinean tango ensemble, Sexteto Mayor, in Berlin in 2003 – he not only tracked stereo (an AB pair before and above the musicians), but also two tracks of ambience from behind the stage. He says that he has always had the idea of recording in surround in the back of his mind, leading to the development of the XYtri mic setup.
His XYtri method not only solves the problem of reliably monitoring multichannel surround with headphones, but it also maps discretely to a 7.1 monitoring environment by extracting sum-and-difference information in the front-most channels, and folds down nicely to 5.1, stereo and directed mono, he says. “Most people doing location work don’t have a separate room where they can set up a monitoring system, and I can’t lug around that much stuff. So I was thinking of what I can do to make surround recordings that I can monitor with more confidence. I thought, maybe I could have a Decca tree but using three 45-degree XY pairs. You have three XY perspectives, and you also have these runtime stereophonic perspectives, one facing frontal left, one frontal right.”
He continues, “This is where the Metric Halo interface and the 2d mixer come in. It’s so flexible to set up a matrix while you’re auditioning stuff, even if you do it from scratch, and also while you do a down mix. While you’re setting up or recording you can monitor each microphone pair separately. This way you can listen to all the different angles and you know that every angle is okay, which you can’t do for setups that are not based entirely on traditional stereophonic configurations.”
The improved, flexible routing matrix functionality in the new 2d upgrade also allows a stereo down mix to be generated and recorded alongside the individual mic inputs, he says, although sometimes a little rebalancing is required after the fact. “I use Metric Halo’s SpectraFoo [analysis software] as an extra aid. There are some things like power balance that you can’t judge reliably with headphones – really small things where I pull down one side by a decibel or half a decibel in the studio. But on more than half of the recordings that I do, I already have the stereo mix finished at the end of the performance.”
He adds, “Even if I tweak the mix at the beginning, the only thing I have to do, while I’m tearing down after the concert has finished, is bounce the first few minutes with the settings I established after the start of the concert. Then I just splice that together with the rest of the recording. So 2d has been an amazing time saver for me.”
Symmetry is very important to his recording technique, says Levine, which aids the surround sound mix. “If I have a mic thirty degrees on the left I might have an equidistant spot mic thirty degrees on the right side of the axis. So the positions and runtime delays are symmetrical to the central setup. That enables me to usually do orchestral recordings even of big works with no more than eight microphones. If the acoustic space is less than ideal I feed the back facing pair of microphones on the left and right of the XYtri to Altiverb and generate a very nice reverb to fill in the back.”
The routing matrix within the Metric Halo software additionally streamlines the workflow when Levine brings the recordings back to his 5.1 mix room, which he plans to upgrade to 7.1 shortly. “The monitor controller within Metric Halo maps my analog line-level outputs onto the physical studio layout, controlling inter-channel gain with 0.5 dB accuracy and all DSP-processing occurs with nearly no latency. It’s very, very easy to use,” he says. “I have templates to do mixes from the XYtri to stereo or 5.1 or quadraphonic. If I place the XYtri setup inside a curved ensemble, I can then unfold the soundstage then pull it out, and this maps into a 7.0 or 7.1 setup.”
Levine believes that Metric Halo’s level of support may be unique. “I think it’s the only company with support that goes back so far and so deep,” Levine adds. “They came out with the 2d card that you can put into a box that’s seven years old and improves it. No one else does that. It’s amazing!”
Recalling his initial experiences when editing a recording of Debussy’s 24 PrÃ©ludes for piano after receiving his 2d-enabled ULN-8s at the end of 2006, he says, “I always mark the beginning and ends of recordings. The end is always the point where I can’t hear any sound anymore. It’s gone beyond the noise floor. Suddenly I noticed I was able to hear four more seconds beyond that. I thought I’d made a mistake, but it was the same for all the takes. Stuff came out of the noise floor like Atlantis!”
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PHOTO CAPTION Andrew Levine, a Hamburg, Germany-based location recording engineer and beta tester for the new Metric Halo ULN-2+DSP has successfully used MH gear for years to record stereo mixes, surround sound and his unique new XYtri microphone setup.